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The legislative debate over gun control represents more of a minefield than a firing range for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
As a Democrat from Nevada, Reid has had to tread carefully on the subject as he tries to serve several masters: the gun-loving people of his state, a liberal-leaning Democratic caucus and a White House determined to see action on gun control this year.
In an attempt to strike the right balance, Reid has not promised to deliver on any specific policy position. Instead he has merely pledged to hold votes on all subjects related to gun violence and to allow the Senate to work its will. That likely means some of the more controversial proposals — such as a renewal of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 — will be defeated, and the chamber will then move on legislation that is weaker but has a broader consensus behind it. That could be exactly where Reid wants it to end up.
In the past, Reid has personally opposed some restrictions on firearms ownership — including the 1994 assault weapons ban — but December’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., and other instances of gun violence prompted him to acknowledge the need to address the larger issues.
Nevada GOP Sen. Dean Heller said Monday that Reid has taken a good approach so far and that Nevadans are concerned about the federal government seizing firearms, unrealistic as that might be.
“So Sen. Reid’s going to have to make a decision on this case, and I think he’s open to ideas,” Heller said. “I don’t think he’s made any mistakes at this point. You know, he’s been vague enough not to make any mistakes at this point, but I think that’s critical when you’ve got a discussion like this that’s as emotional as it is. I mean, it is a really emotional issue.
“Being vague at this point probably makes sense, just to get through the hearings,” Heller added, noting that Reid has generally had a good track record on Second Amendment issues from the perspective of gun owners. Of course, Heller and Reid have a political nonaggression pact, despite being from different parties. That relationship, which Reid has had with Nevada Republicans, means they rarely, if ever, badmouth each other.
A state poll conducted last week for the Las Vegas CBS affiliate found that a majority of respondents favor a prohibition on assault weapons but also that Americans should be allowed to own the firearms of their choosing — a contradictory result that underscores the trouble with the issue. However, large majorities of respondents favor registration and background check requirements.